Clemson University coach Dabo Swinney did not host a campus-wide viewing party Tuesday night for the release of the first College Football Playoff standings. Despite the favorable result, he will not lobby for a parade through downtown Wednesday morning.
Clemson is ranked No. 1 in the initial poll. The Tigers were never ranked higher than No. 17 last year. Defending national champion Ohio State is ranked No. 3. Southeastern Conference rivals LSU and Alabama, who will meet Saturday, are ranked Nos. 2 and 4, respectively.
Although Clemson is positioned perfectly to secure one of the four playoff spots by the end of the season, Swinney understands this early distinction assures nothing.
“I don’t care, not unless they gone give me an exemption,” Swinney said with a laugh. “Maybe that would be a good addition. ‘When the first poll comes out, if you’re in the Top 4 you get two mulligans or something.’”
The College Football Playoff Committee, which includes Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich and former Clemson player and Furman coach Bobby Johnson, cannot pardon losses. This initial ranking does not entitle Clemson to a spot in the final bracket.
It is simply a deposit. Clemson can pay off the remaining balance with a clean sweep through the remainder of its schedule.
The committee will update the rankings each week. The Final Four teams will be set after the conference championship games on Dec. 5. The primary criteria in the selection process include championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition (if applicable) and comparative outcomes of common opponents.
Clemson’s 8-0 record earned the highest favor of the committee. Among the eight remaining undefeated teams from Power 5 conferences, Clemson is the only one that has earned a victory against a Top 10 opponent.
In addition to that win against No. 5 Notre Dame, the remainder of Clemson’s schedule presumably will include matchups against two more ranked teams— Saturday against No. 16 Florida State and in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. ACC Coastal Division frontrunner North Carolina is ranked No. 21 in both the USA Today coaches and Associate Press polls.
If that projection materializes, the teams trailing Clemson would have trouble compiling cases to unseat the Tigers.
“It’s just a sign that we’ve had a great season to this point,” Swinney said on the ESPN broadcast Tuesday night. “I don’t think anybody should be having a party over what the poll is, and I don’t think anybody should be disappointed. There’s a lot of ball to be played.”
In his dismissal of the poll, Swinney recalled how frequently it shuffled through the final seven weeks last season.
Florida State was the only team ranked in the initial Top 4 that also was ranked in the final Top 4. Ohio State was ranked No. 16 in the initial standings. Two of the teams ranked ahead of Ohio State then— No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 15 Nebraska— closed the season outside the Top 25.
Ohio State did not climb into the Top 10 until Week 12 and did not reach the Top 4 until the final possible week. Nevertheless, Ohio State proceeded to win the national championship.
Alabama is the only team with a loss ranked in the Top 4. The committee pushed the Tide ahead of undefeated Big 12 teams Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State and unbeaten Big Ten teams Michigan State and Iowa.
“There was a number of discussions about those undefeated teams and whether a one-loss team should be ranked ahead of them,” committee chair Jeff Long said. “We rank to this point and time, and those teams just haven’t played their strong teams yet. We’ll see how they stack up as we get closer to the end of the season.”
This ranking is not a guarantee of a playoff berth. Thus, it is not cause for a grand celebration. Yet, Swinney already has revealed plans for one, when or if the appropriate time arrives.
“The only poll we’re excited about is Dec. 6,” Swinney said, referring to the release date of the final CFP poll. “I promise you, we’ll have the biggest poll party you’ve ever seen. We’ll open up Death Valley and serve pizza to everybody.
“That’ll be a time to celebrate a poll, but until then, it just doesn’t matter, because you’ve got to earn your way there. You’ve got to win the games. You don’t get any passes.”